Moby-Dick: The Truth Behind The Legend

“Call me Ishmael.” It’s the opening line of a novel about the whaling industry, about revenge, and about redemption.

If you’re interested in the 19th Century American whaling industry, love classic American literature, or believe you were tortured in your high-school literature class, you’ve probably read Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. The novel has certainly shaped American views of whaling in the 1800’s. And if you’ve read, perhaps you’ve wondered: could it be true?

Today we’re wrapping up our three month examination of American whaling (moving on to lighthouses in July!) and we’re revealing some historical facts about this Melville novel, ┬áthe real account that inspired the story, and a recommendation for your summer reading list. Continue reading

Whaling Ships – A Few Historical Details

It’s time to talk about the actual whale ships. But don’t confuse them with the whaleboats – there is a difference. Whaleboats were the smaller vessels used in the actual hunt; they were about 28-30 feet in length and not designed for a long voyage and equipped with oars, steering oar, and long lengths of rope which would be connected to the harpoon.

Today, we’ll focus on the big ship. The one that left harbor, sailed around the world, carried the smaller whaleboats, housed the crew, provided a platform for the boiling pots, and stored the barrels and bundles of profit. How big were these ships? What was the layout of the decks? How much could a ship stand from weather and other forces of nature? Let’s explore…

(For those of you who might be wondering about a new post on Thursday… Since we skipped a maritime post on Wednesday last week, you’ll get two this week to keep the series on schedule.) Continue reading

Captains & Crews On Whaling Ships

Recently, a friend told me how much she was enjoying this series on 19th Century American Whaling, and she followed the compliment with this observation, “But what a hard and horrible way to make a living.” That’s true. Whaling – even with its economic potential – had hard work. It was gross, messy, and back-breaking.

In some of the previous posts, we’ve discussed some of the ranks and demographics of whaling. Today, we’ll try to explore this a little more in-depth. Who was who on a whaling ship? Why did men work in the industry? (Were captains really as infamous as Captain Ahab from Moby Dick?) Continue reading

International Voyages!

It’s conference week at Gazette665, but we wanted to keep to the schedule and tradition by sharing something about 19th Century Maritime and whaling this Wednesday. You’ll have to forgive the late hour of posting – it’s been a busy day.

So…international whaling voyages… There are two aspects that we’ll focus on tonight. First, the actual international diplomacy and discovery supported and carried out by the American whaling fleet. Second, the effects of international voyages on the demographics of men employed in the industry and residing in 19th Century American port towns. Continue reading

The Golden Age & Decline Of American Whaling?

The mid-19th Century marks a “Golden Age” in the American whaling industry. Hundreds of ships roamed the seas, searching farther and farther for their valuable prey. Ironically, the “Golden Age” ended a decline. (See the chart at the end of this blog post.)

Today, we’ll explore some aspects of the high point in this maritime trade and the circumstances that started to curtail the hunt for whales. Continue reading